Part 5 out of 8
momentary well-being. Her rivals--Mrs. Reggie Chivers,
the Merry girls, and divers rosy Thorleys, Dagonets
and Mingotts, stood behind her in a lovely anxious
group, brown heads and golden bent above the scores,
and pale muslins and flower-wreathed hats mingled in
a tender rainbow. All were young and pretty, and
bathed in summer bloom; but not one had the nymph-
like ease of his wife, when, with tense muscles and
happy frown, she bent her soul upon some feat of
"Gad," Archer heard Lawrence Lefferts say, "not
one of the lot holds the bow as she does"; and Beaufort
retorted: "Yes; but that's the only kind of target she'll
Archer felt irrationally angry. His host's contemptuous
tribute to May's "niceness" was just what a husband
should have wished to hear said of his wife. The
fact that a coarseminded man found her lacking in
attraction was simply another proof of her quality; yet
the words sent a faint shiver through his heart. What if
"niceness" carried to that supreme degree were only a
negation, the curtain dropped before an emptiness? As
he looked at May, returning flushed and calm from her
final bull's-eye, he had the feeling that he had never yet
lifted that curtain.
She took the congratulations of her rivals and of the
rest of the company with the simplicity that was her
crowning grace. No one could ever be jealous of her
triumphs because she managed to give the feeling that
she would have been just as serene if she had missed
them. But when her eyes met her husband's her face
glowed with the pleasure she saw in his.
Mrs. Welland's basket-work pony-carriage was waiting
for them, and they drove off among the dispersing
carriages, May handling the reins and Archer sitting at
The afternoon sunlight still lingered upon the bright
lawns and shrubberies, and up and down Bellevue Avenue
rolled a double line of victorias, dog-carts, landaus
and "vis-a-vis," carrying well-dressed ladies and
gentlemen away from the Beaufort garden-party, or homeward
from their daily afternoon turn along the Ocean
"Shall we go to see Granny?" May suddenly
proposed. "I should like to tell her myself that I've won
the prize. There's lots of time before dinner."
Archer acquiesced, and she turned the ponies down
Narragansett Avenue, crossed Spring Street and drove
out toward the rocky moorland beyond. In this unfashionable
region Catherine the Great, always indifferent
to precedent and thrifty of purse, had built herself in
her youth a many-peaked and cross-beamed cottage-
orne on a bit of cheap land overlooking the bay. Here,
in a thicket of stunted oaks, her verandahs spread
themselves above the island-dotted waters. A winding
drive led up between iron stags and blue glass balls
embedded in mounds of geraniums to a front door of
highly-varnished walnut under a striped verandah-roof;
and behind it ran a narrow hall with a black and
yellow star-patterned parquet floor, upon which opened
four small square rooms with heavy flock-papers under
ceilings on which an Italian house-painter had lavished
all the divinities of Olympus. One of these rooms had
been turned into a bedroom by Mrs. Mingott when the
burden of flesh descended on her, and in the adjoining
one she spent her days, enthroned in a large armchair
between the open door and window, and perpetually
waving a palm-leaf fan which the prodigious projection
of her bosom kept so far from the rest of her person
that the air it set in motion stirred only the fringe of the
anti-macassars on the chair-arms.
Since she had been the means of hastening his marriage
old Catherine had shown to Archer the cordiality
which a service rendered excites toward the person
served. She was persuaded that irrepressible passion
was the cause of his impatience; and being an ardent
admirer of impulsiveness (when it did not lead to the
spending of money) she always received him with a
genial twinkle of complicity and a play of allusion to
which May seemed fortunately impervious.
She examined and appraised with much interest the
diamond-tipped arrow which had been pinned on May's
bosom at the conclusion of the match, remarking that
in her day a filigree brooch would have been thought
enough, but that there was no denying that Beaufort
did things handsomely.
"Quite an heirloom, in fact, my dear," the old lady
chuckled. "You must leave it in fee to your eldest girl."
She pinched May's white arm and watched the colour
flood her face. "Well, well, what have I said to make
you shake out the red flag? Ain't there going to be any
daughters--only boys, eh? Good gracious, look at her
blushing again all over her blushes! What--can't I say
that either? Mercy me--when my children beg me to
have all those gods and goddesses painted out overhead
I always say I'm too thankful to have somebody about
me that NOTHING can shock!"
Archer burst into a laugh, and May echoed it, crimson
to the eyes.
"Well, now tell me all about the party, please, my
dears, for I shall never get a straight word about it out
of that silly Medora," the ancestress continued; and, as
May exclaimed: "Cousin Medora? But I thought she
was going back to Portsmouth?" she answered placidly:
"So she is--but she's got to come here first to pick
up Ellen. Ah--you didn't know Ellen had come to
spend the day with me? Such fol-de-rol, her not coming
for the summer; but I gave up arguing with young
people about fifty years ago. Ellen--ELLEN!" she cried in
her shrill old voice, trying to bend forward far enough
to catch a glimpse of the lawn beyond the verandah.
There was no answer, and Mrs. Mingott rapped
impatiently with her stick on the shiny floor. A mulatto
maid-servant in a bright turban, replying to the summons,
informed her mistress that she had seen "Miss
Ellen" going down the path to the shore; and Mrs.
Mingott turned to Archer.
"Run down and fetch her, like a good grandson; this
pretty lady will describe the party to me," she said; and
Archer stood up as if in a dream.
He had heard the Countess Olenska's name pronounced
often enough during the year and a half since
they had last met, and was even familiar with the main
incidents of her life in the interval. He knew that she
had spent the previous summer at Newport, where she
appeared to have gone a great deal into society, but
that in the autumn she had suddenly sub-let the "perfect
house" which Beaufort had been at such pains to
find for her, and decided to establish herself in
Washington. There, during the winter, he had heard of her
(as one always heard of pretty women in Washington)
as shining in the "brilliant diplomatic society" that was
supposed to make up for the social short-comings of
the Administration. He had listened to these accounts,
and to various contradictory reports on her appearance,
her conversation, her point of view and her choice
of friends, with the detachment with which one listens
to reminiscences of some one long since dead; not till
Medora suddenly spoke her name at the archery match
had Ellen Olenska become a living presence to him
again. The Marchioness's foolish lisp had called up a
vision of the little fire-lit drawing-room and the sound
of the carriage-wheels returning down the deserted street.
He thought of a story he had read, of some peasant
children in Tuscany lighting a bunch of straw in a
wayside cavern, and revealing old silent images in their
painted tomb . . .
The way to the shore descended from the bank on
which the house was perched to a walk above the
water planted with weeping willows. Through their veil
Archer caught the glint of the Lime Rock, with its
white-washed turret and the tiny house in which the
heroic light-house keeper, Ida Lewis, was living her last
venerable years. Beyond it lay the flat reaches and ugly
government chimneys of Goat Island, the bay spreading
northward in a shimmer of gold to Prudence Island
with its low growth of oaks, and the shores of Conanicut
faint in the sunset haze.
From the willow walk projected a slight wooden pier
ending in a sort of pagoda-like summer-house; and in
the pagoda a lady stood, leaning against the rail, her
back to the shore. Archer stopped at the sight as if he
had waked from sleep. That vision of the past was a
dream, and the reality was what awaited him in the
house on the bank overhead: was Mrs. Welland's pony-
carriage circling around and around the oval at the
door, was May sitting under the shameless Olympians
and glowing with secret hopes, was the Welland villa at
the far end of Bellevue Avenue, and Mr. Welland,
already dressed for dinner, and pacing the drawing-
room floor, watch in hand, with dyspeptic impatience--
for it was one of the houses in which one always knew
exactly what is happening at a given hour.
"What am I? A son-in-law--" Archer thought.
The figure at the end of the pier had not moved. For
a long moment the young man stood half way down
the bank, gazing at the bay furrowed with the coming
and going of sailboats, yacht-launches, fishing-craft and
the trailing black coal-barges hauled by noisy tugs. The
lady in the summer-house seemed to be held by the
same sight. Beyond the grey bastions of Fort Adams a
long-drawn sunset was splintering up into a thousand
fires, and the radiance caught the sail of a catboat as it
beat out through the channel between the Lime Rock
and the shore. Archer, as he watched, remembered the
scene in the Shaughraun, and Montague lifting Ada
Dyas's ribbon to his lips without her knowing that he
was in the room.
"She doesn't know--she hasn't guessed. Shouldn't I
know if she came up behind me, I wonder?" he mused;
and suddenly he said to himself: "If she doesn't turn
before that sail crosses the Lime Rock light I'll go
The boat was gliding out on the receding tide. It slid
before the Lime Rock, blotted out Ida Lewis's little
house, and passed across the turret in which the light
was hung. Archer waited till a wide space of water
sparkled between the last reef of the island and the
stern of the boat; but still the figure in the summer-
house did not move.
He turned and walked up the hill.
"I'm sorry you didn't find Ellen--I should have liked
to see her again," May said as they drove home through
the dusk. "But perhaps she wouldn't have cared--she
seems so changed."
"Changed?" echoed her husband in a colourless voice,
his eyes fixed on the ponies' twitching ears.
"So indifferent to her friends, I mean; giving up New
York and her house, and spending her time with such
queer people. Fancy how hideously uncomfortable she
must be at the Blenkers'! She says she does it to keep
cousin Medora out of mischief: to prevent her marrying
dreadful people. But I sometimes think we've always
Archer made no answer, and she continued, with a
tinge of hardness that he had never before noticed in
her frank fresh voice: "After all, I wonder if she wouldn't
be happier with her husband."
He burst into a laugh. "Sancta simplicitas!" he
exclaimed; and as she turned a puzzled frown on him he
added: "I don't think I ever heard you say a cruel thing
"Well--watching the contortions of the damned is
supposed to be a favourite sport of the angels; but I
believe even they don't think people happier in hell."
"It's a pity she ever married abroad then," said May,
in the placid tone with which her mother met Mr.
Welland's vagaries; and Archer felt himself gently relegated
to the category of unreasonable husbands.
They drove down Bellevue Avenue and turned in
between the chamfered wooden gate-posts surmounted
by cast-iron lamps which marked the approach to the
Welland villa. Lights were already shining through its
windows, and Archer, as the carriage stopped, caught a
glimpse of his father-in-law, exactly as he had pictured
him, pacing the drawing-room, watch in hand and
wearing the pained expression that he had long since
found to be much more efficacious than anger.
The young man, as he followed his wife into the hall,
was conscious of a curious reversal of mood. There
was something about the luxury of the Welland house
and the density of the Welland atmosphere, so charged
with minute observances and exactions, that always
stole into his system like a narcotic. The heavy carpets,
the watchful servants, the perpetually reminding tick of
disciplined clocks, the perpetually renewed stack of
cards and invitations on the hall table, the whole chain
of tyrannical trifles binding one hour to the next, and
each member of the household to all the others, made
any less systematised and affluent existence seem unreal
and precarious. But now it was the Welland house,
and the life he was expected to lead in it, that had
become unreal and irrelevant, and the brief scene on
the shore, when he had stood irresolute, halfway down
the bank, was as close to him as the blood in his veins.
All night he lay awake in the big chintz bedroom at
May's side, watching the moonlight slant along the
carpet, and thinking of Ellen Olenska driving home
across the gleaming beaches behind Beaufort's trotters.
A party for the Blenkers--the Blenkers?"
Mr. Welland laid down his knife and fork and
looked anxiously and incredulously across the luncheon-
table at his wife, who, adjusting her gold eye-glasses,
read aloud, in the tone of high comedy: "Professor and
Mrs. Emerson Sillerton request the pleasure of Mr. and
Mrs. Welland's company at the meeting of the Wednesday
Afternoon Club on August 25th at 3 o'clock
punctually. To meet Mrs. and the Misses Blenker.
"Red Gables, Catherine Street. R. S. V. P."
"Good gracious--" Mr. Welland gasped, as if a second
reading had been necessary to bring the monstrous
absurdity of the thing home to him.
"Poor Amy Sillerton--you never can tell what her
husband will do next," Mrs. Welland sighed. "I suppose
he's just discovered the Blenkers."
Professor Emerson Sillerton was a thorn in the side
of Newport society; and a thorn that could not be
plucked out, for it grew on a venerable and venerated
family tree. He was, as people said, a man who had
had "every advantage." His father was Sillerton Jackson's
uncle, his mother a Pennilow of Boston; on each
side there was wealth and position, and mutual
suitability. Nothing--as Mrs. Welland had often remarked--
nothing on earth obliged Emerson Sillerton to be an
archaeologist, or indeed a Professor of any sort, or to
live in Newport in winter, or do any of the other
revolutionary things that he did. But at least, if he was
going to break with tradition and flout society in the
face, he need not have married poor Amy Dagonet,
who had a right to expect "something different," and
money enough to keep her own carriage.
No one in the Mingott set could understand why
Amy Sillerton had submitted so tamely to the eccentricities
of a husband who filled the house with long-
haired men and short-haired women, and, when he
travelled, took her to explore tombs in Yucatan instead
of going to Paris or Italy. But there they were, set in
their ways, and apparently unaware that they were
different from other people; and when they gave one of
their dreary annual garden-parties every family on the
Cliffs, because of the Sillerton-Pennilow-Dagonet
connection, had to draw lots and send an unwilling
"It's a wonder," Mrs. Welland remarked, "that they
didn't choose the Cup Race day! Do you remember,
two years ago, their giving a party for a black man on
the day of Julia Mingott's the dansant? Luckily this
time there's nothing else going on that I know of--for
of course some of us will have to go."
Mr. Welland sighed nervously. "`Some of us,' my
dear--more than one? Three o'clock is such a very
awkward hour. I have to be here at half-past three to
take my drops: it's really no use trying to follow
Bencomb's new treatment if I don't do it systematically;
and if I join you later, of course I shall miss my
drive." At the thought he laid down his knife and fork
again, and a flush of anxiety rose to his finely-wrinkled
"There's no reason why you should go at all, my
dear," his wife answered with a cheerfulness that had
become automatic. "I have some cards to leave at the
other end of Bellevue Avenue, and I'll drop in at about
half-past three and stay long enough to make poor
Amy feel that she hasn't been slighted." She glanced
hesitatingly at her daughter. "And if Newland's afternoon
is provided for perhaps May can drive you out
with the ponies, and try their new russet harness."
It was a principle in the Welland family that people's
days and hours should be what Mrs. Welland called
"provided for." The melancholy possibility of having
to "kill time" (especially for those who did not care for
whist or solitaire) was a vision that haunted her as the
spectre of the unemployed haunts the philanthropist.
Another of her principles was that parents should never
(at least visibly) interfere with the plans of their
married children; and the difficulty of adjusting this respect
for May's independence with the exigency of Mr. Welland's
claims could be overcome only by the exercise of
an ingenuity which left not a second of Mrs. Welland's
own time unprovided for.
"Of course I'll drive with Papa--I'm sure Newland
will find something to do," May said, in a tone that
gently reminded her husband of his lack of response. It
was a cause of constant distress to Mrs. Welland that
her son-in-law showed so little foresight in planning his
days. Often already, during the fortnight that he had
passed under her roof, when she enquired how he
meant to spend his afternoon, he had answered
paradoxically: "Oh, I think for a change I'll just save it
instead of spending it--" and once, when she and May
had had to go on a long-postponed round of afternoon
calls, he had confessed to having lain all the afternoon
under a rock on the beach below the house.
"Newland never seems to look ahead," Mrs. Welland
once ventured to complain to her daughter; and
May answered serenely: "No; but you see it doesn't
matter, because when there's nothing particular to do
he reads a book."
"Ah, yes--like his father!" Mrs. Welland agreed, as
if allowing for an inherited oddity; and after that the
question of Newland's unemployment was tacitly
Nevertheless, as the day for the Sillerton reception
approached, May began to show a natural solicitude
for his welfare, and to suggest a tennis match at the
Chiverses', or a sail on Julius Beaufort's cutter, as a
means of atoning for her temporary desertion. "I shall
be back by six, you know, dear: Papa never drives later
than that--" and she was not reassured till Archer said
that he thought of hiring a run-about and driving up
the island to a stud-farm to look at a second horse for
her brougham. They had been looking for this horse
for some time, and the suggestion was so acceptable
that May glanced at her mother as if to say: "You see
he knows how to plan out his time as well as any of
The idea of the stud-farm and the brougham horse
had germinated in Archer's mind on the very day when
the Emerson Sillerton invitation had first been
mentioned; but he had kept it to himself as if there were
something clandestine in the plan, and discovery might
prevent its execution. He had, however, taken the
precaution to engage in advance a runabout with a pair of
old livery-stable trotters that could still do their
eighteen miles on level roads; and at two o'clock, hastily
deserting the luncheon-table, he sprang into the light
carriage and drove off.
The day was perfect. A breeze from the north drove
little puffs of white cloud across an ultramarine sky,
with a bright sea running under it. Bellevue Avenue
was empty at that hour, and after dropping the stable-
lad at the corner of Mill Street Archer turned down
the Old Beach Road and drove across Eastman's Beach.
He had the feeling of unexplained excitement with
which, on half-holidays at school, he used to start off
into the unknown. Taking his pair at an easy gait, he
counted on reaching the stud-farm, which was not far
beyond Paradise Rocks, before three o'clock; so that,
after looking over the horse (and trying him if he
seemed promising) he would still have four golden
hours to dispose of.
As soon as he heard of the Sillerton's party he had
said to himself that the Marchioness Manson would
certainly come to Newport with the Blenkers, and that
Madame Olenska might again take the opportunity of
spending the day with her grandmother. At any rate,
the Blenker habitation would probably be deserted,
and he would be able, without indiscretion, to satisfy a
vague curiosity concerning it. He was not sure that he
wanted to see the Countess Olenska again; but ever
since he had looked at her from the path above the bay
he had wanted, irrationally and indescribably, to see
the place she was living in, and to follow the movements
of her imagined figure as he had watched the
real one in the summer-house. The longing was with
him day and night, an incessant undefinable craving,
like the sudden whim of a sick man for food or drink
once tasted and long since forgotten. He could not see
beyond the craving, or picture what it might lead to,
for he was not conscious of any wish to speak to
Madame Olenska or to hear her voice. He simply felt
that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of
earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea
enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty.
When he reached the stud-farm a glance showed him
that the horse was not what he wanted; nevertheless he
took a turn behind it in order to prove to himself that
he was not in a hurry. But at three o'clock he shook
out the reins over the trotters and turned into the
by-roads leading to Portsmouth. The wind had dropped
and a faint haze on the horizon showed that a fog was
waiting to steal up the Saconnet on the turn of the tide;
but all about him fields and woods were steeped in
He drove past grey-shingled farm-houses in orchards,
past hay-fields and groves of oak, past villages with
white steeples rising sharply into the fading sky; and at
last, after stopping to ask the way of some men at
work in a field, he turned down a lane between high
banks of goldenrod and brambles. At the end of the
lane was the blue glimmer of the river; to the left,
standing in front of a clump of oaks and maples, he
saw a long tumble-down house with white paint peeling
from its clapboards.
On the road-side facing the gateway stood one of the
open sheds in which the New Englander shelters his
farming implements and visitors "hitch" their "teams."
Archer, jumping down, led his pair into the shed, and
after tying them to a post turned toward the house.
The patch of lawn before it had relapsed into a hay-
field; but to the left an overgrown box-garden full of
dahlias and rusty rose-bushes encircled a ghostly summer-
house of trellis-work that had once been white,
surmounted by a wooden Cupid who had lost his bow
and arrow but continued to take ineffectual aim.
Archer leaned for a while against the gate. No one
was in sight, and not a sound came from the open
windows of the house: a grizzled Newfoundland dozing
before the door seemed as ineffectual a guardian as
the arrowless Cupid. It was strange to think that this
place of silence and decay was the home of the turbulent
Blenkers; yet Archer was sure that he was not
For a long time he stood there, content to take in the
scene, and gradually falling under its drowsy spell; but
at length he roused himself to the sense of the passing
time. Should he look his fill and then drive away? He
stood irresolute, wishing suddenly to see the inside of
the house, so that he might picture the room that
Madame Olenska sat in. There was nothing to prevent
his walking up to the door and ringing the bell; if, as
he supposed, she was away with the rest of the party,
he could easily give his name, and ask permission to go
into the sitting-room to write a message.
But instead, he crossed the lawn and turned toward
the box-garden. As he entered it he caught sight of
something bright-coloured in the summer-house, and
presently made it out to be a pink parasol. The parasol
drew him like a magnet: he was sure it was hers. He
went into the summer-house, and sitting down on the
rickety seat picked up the silken thing and looked at its
carved handle, which was made of some rare wood
that gave out an aromatic scent. Archer lifted the handle
to his lips.
He heard a rustle of skirts against the box, and sat
motionless, leaning on the parasol handle with clasped
hands, and letting the rustle come nearer without lifting
his eyes. He had always known that this must
happen . . .
"Oh, Mr. Archer!" exclaimed a loud young voice;
and looking up he saw before him the youngest and
largest of the Blenker girls, blonde and blowsy, in
bedraggled muslin. A red blotch on one of her cheeks
seemed to show that it had recently been pressed against
a pillow, and her half-awakened eyes stared at him
hospitably but confusedly.
"Gracious--where did you drop from? I must have
been sound asleep in the hammock. Everybody else has
gone to Newport. Did you ring?" she incoherently
Archer's confusion was greater than hers. "I--no--
that is, I was just going to. I had to come up the island
to see about a horse, and I drove over on a chance of
finding Mrs. Blenker and your visitors. But the house
seemed empty--so I sat down to wait."
Miss Blenker, shaking off the fumes of sleep, looked
at him with increasing interest. "The house IS empty.
Mother's not here, or the Marchioness--or anybody
but me." Her glance became faintly reproachful. "Didn't
you know that Professor and Mrs. Sillerton are giving a
garden-party for mother and all of us this afternoon? It
was too unlucky that I couldn't go; but I've had a sore
throat, and mother was afraid of the drive home this
evening. Did you ever know anything so disappointing?
Of course," she added gaily, "I shouldn't have minded
half as much if I'd known you were coming."
Symptoms of a lumbering coquetry became visible in
her, and Archer found the strength to break in: "But
Madame Olenska--has she gone to Newport too?"
Miss Blenker looked at him with surprise. "Madame
Olenska--didn't you know she'd been called away?"
"Oh, my best parasol! I lent it to that goose of a
Katie, because it matched her ribbons, and the careless
thing must have dropped it here. We Blenkers are all
like that . . . real Bohemians!" Recovering the
sunshade with a powerful hand she unfurled it and
suspended its rosy dome above her head. "Yes, Ellen was
called away yesterday: she lets us call her Ellen, you
know. A telegram came from Boston: she said she
might be gone for two days. I do LOVE the way she does
her hair, don't you?" Miss Blenker rambled on.
Archer continued to stare through her as though she
had been transparent. All he saw was the trumpery
parasol that arched its pinkness above her giggling
After a moment he ventured: "You don't happen to
know why Madame Olenska went to Boston? I hope it
was not on account of bad news?"
Miss Blenker took this with a cheerful incredulity.
"Oh, I don't believe so. She didn't tell us what was in
the telegram. I think she didn't want the Marchioness
to know. She's so romantic-looking, isn't she? Doesn't
she remind you of Mrs. Scott-Siddons when she reads
`Lady Geraldine's Courtship'? Did you never hear her?"
Archer was dealing hurriedly with crowding thoughts.
His whole future seemed suddenly to be unrolled
before him; and passing down its endless emptiness he
saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing
was ever to happen. He glanced about him at the
unpruned garden, the tumble-down house, and the oak-
grove under which the dusk was gathering. It had
seemed so exactly the place in which he ought to have
found Madame Olenska; and she was far away, and
even the pink sunshade was not hers . . .
He frowned and hesitated. "You don't know, I
suppose-- I shall be in Boston tomorrow. If I could
manage to see her--"
He felt that Miss Blenker was losing interest in him,
though her smile persisted. "Oh, of course; how lovely
of you! She's staying at the Parker House; it must be
horrible there in this weather."
After that Archer was but intermittently aware of the
remarks they exchanged. He could only remember stoutly
resisting her entreaty that he should await the returning
family and have high tea with them before he drove
home. At length, with his hostess still at his side, he
passed out of range of the wooden Cupid, unfastened his
horses and drove off. At the turn of the lane he saw Miss
Blenker standing at the gate and waving the pink parasol.
The next morning, when Archer got out of the Fall
River train, he emerged upon a steaming midsummer
Boston. The streets near the station were full of the
smell of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and a shirt-
sleeved populace moved through them with the intimate
abandon of boarders going down the passage to
Archer found a cab and drove to the Somerset Club
for breakfast. Even the fashionable quarters had the air
of untidy domesticity to which no excess of heat ever
degrades the European cities. Care-takers in calico
lounged on the door-steps of the wealthy, and the
Common looked like a pleasure-ground on the morrow
of a Masonic picnic. If Archer had tried to imagine
Ellen Olenska in improbable scenes he could not have
called up any into which it was more difficult to fit her
than this heat-prostrated and deserted Boston.
He breakfasted with appetite and method, beginning
with a slice of melon, and studying a morning paper
while he waited for his toast and scrambled eggs. A
new sense of energy and activity had possessed him
ever since he had announced to May the night before
that he had business in Boston, and should take the
Fall River boat that night and go on to New York the
following evening. It had always been understood that
he would return to town early in the week, and when
he got back from his expedition to Portsmouth a letter
from the office, which fate had conspicuously placed
on a corner of the hall table, sufficed to justify his
sudden change of plan. He was even ashamed of the
ease with which the whole thing had been done: it
reminded him, for an uncomfortable moment, of Lawrence
Lefferts's masterly contrivances for securing his
freedom. But this did not long trouble him, for he was
not in an analytic mood.
After breakfast he smoked a cigarette and glanced
over the Commercial Advertiser. While he was thus
engaged two or three men he knew came in, and the
usual greetings were exchanged: it was the same world
after all, though he had such a queer sense of having
slipped through the meshes of time and space.
He looked at his watch, and finding that it was
half-past nine got up and went into the writing-room.
There he wrote a few lines, and ordered a messenger to
take a cab to the Parker House and wait for the
answer. He then sat down behind another newspaper and
tried to calculate how long it would take a cab to get to
the Parker House.
"The lady was out, sir," he suddenly heard a waiter's
voice at his elbow; and he stammered: "Out?--" as if
it were a word in a strange language.
He got up and went into the hall. It must be a
mistake: she could not be out at that hour. He flushed
with anger at his own stupidity: why had he not sent
the note as soon as he arrived?
He found his hat and stick and went forth into the
street. The city had suddenly become as strange and
vast and empty as if he were a traveller from distant
lands. For a moment he stood on the door-step hesitating;
then he decided to go to the Parker House. What if
the messenger had been misinformed, and she were still
He started to walk across the Common; and on the
first bench, under a tree, he saw her sitting. She had a
grey silk sunshade over her head--how could he ever
have imagined her with a pink one? As he approached
he was struck by her listless attitude: she sat there as if
she had nothing else to do. He saw her drooping profile,
and the knot of hair fastened low in the neck
under her dark hat, and the long wrinkled glove on the
hand that held the sunshade. He came a step or two
nearer, and she turned and looked at him.
"Oh"--she said; and for the first time he noticed a
startled look on her face; but in another moment it
gave way to a slow smile of wonder and contentment.
"Oh"--she murmured again, on a different note, as
he stood looking down at her; and without rising she
made a place for him on the bench.
"I'm here on business--just got here," Archer
explained; and, without knowing why, he suddenly began
to feign astonishment at seeing her. "But what on earth
are you doing in this wilderness?" He had really no
idea what he was saying: he felt as if he were shouting
at her across endless distances, and she might vanish
again before he could overtake her.
"I? Oh, I'm here on business too," she answered,
turning her head toward him so that they were face to
face. The words hardly reached him: he was aware
only of her voice, and of the startling fact that not an
echo of it had remained in his memory. He had not
even remembered that it was low-pitched, with a faint
roughness on the consonants.
"You do your hair differently," he said, his heart
beating as if he had uttered something irrevocable.
"Differently? No--it's only that I do it as best I can
when I'm without Nastasia."
"Nastasia; but isn't she with you?"
"No; I'm alone. For two days it was not worth while
to bring her."
"You're alone--at the Parker House?"
She looked at him with a flash of her old malice.
"Does it strike you as dangerous?"
"No; not dangerous--"
"But unconventional? I see; I suppose it is." She
considered a moment. "I hadn't thought of it, because
I've just done something so much more unconventional."
The faint tinge of irony lingered in her eyes. "I've just
refused to take back a sum of money--that belonged to
Archer sprang up and moved a step or two away.
She had furled her parasol and sat absently drawing
patterns on the gravel. Presently he came back and
stood before her.
"Some one--has come here to meet you?"
"With this offer?"
"And you refused--because of the conditions?"
"I refused," she said after a moment.
He sat down by her again. "What were the conditions?"
"Oh, they were not onerous: just to sit at the head of
his table now and then."
There was another interval of silence. Archer's heart
had slammed itself shut in the queer way it had, and he
sat vainly groping for a word.
"He wants you back--at any price?"
"Well--a considerable price. At least the sum is
considerable for me."
He paused again, beating about the question he felt
he must put.
"It was to meet him here that you came?"
She stared, and then burst into a laugh. "Meet
him--my husband? HERE? At this season he's always at
Cowes or Baden."
"He sent some one?"
"With a letter?"
She shook her head. "No; just a message. He never
writes. I don't think I've had more than one letter from
him." The allusion brought the colour to her cheek,
and it reflected itself in Archer's vivid blush.
"Why does he never write?"
"Why should he? What does one have secretaries
The young man's blush deepened. She had pronounced
the word as if it had no more significance than any
other in her vocabulary. For a moment it was on the
tip of his tongue to ask: "Did he send his secretary,
then?" But the remembrance of Count Olenski's only
letter to his wife was too present to him. He paused
again, and then took another plunge.
"And the person?"--
"The emissary? The emissary," Madame Olenska
rejoined, still smiling, "might, for all I care, have left
already; but he has insisted on waiting till this evening
. . . in case . . . on the chance . . ."
"And you came out here to think the chance over?"
"I came out to get a breath of air. The hotel's too
stifling. I'm taking the afternoon train back to Portsmouth."
They sat silent, not looking at each other, but straight
ahead at the people passing along the path. Finally she
turned her eyes again to his face and said: "You're not
He felt like answering: "I was, till I saw you again;"
but instead he stood up abruptly and glanced about
him at the untidy sweltering park.
"This is horrible. Why shouldn't we go out a little on
the bay? There's a breeze, and it will be cooler. We
might take the steamboat down to Point Arley." She
glanced up at him hesitatingly and he went on: "On a
Monday morning there won't be anybody on the boat.
My train doesn't leave till evening: I'm going back to
New York. Why shouldn't we?" he insisted, looking
down at her; and suddenly he broke out: "Haven't we
done all we could?"
"Oh"--she murmured again. She stood up and
reopened her sunshade, glancing about her as if to take
counsel of the scene, and assure herself of the impossibility
of remaining in it. Then her eyes returned to his
face. "You mustn't say things like that to me," she
"I'll say anything you like; or nothing. I won't open
my mouth unless you tell me to. What harm can it do
to anybody? All I want is to listen to you," he
She drew out a little gold-faced watch on an
enamelled chain. "Oh, don't calculate," he broke out; "give
me the day! I want to get you away from that man. At
what time was he coming?"
Her colour rose again. "At eleven."
"Then you must come at once."
"You needn't be afraid--if I don't come."
"Nor you either--if you do. I swear I only want to
hear about you, to know what you've been doing. It's a
hundred years since we've met--it may be another
hundred before we meet again."
She still wavered, her anxious eyes on his face. "Why
didn't you come down to the beach to fetch me, the
day I was at Granny's?" she asked.
"Because you didn't look round--because you didn't
know I was there. I swore I wouldn't unless you looked
round." He laughed as the childishness of the confession
"But I didn't look round on purpose."
"I knew you were there; when you drove in I
recognised the ponies. So I went down to the beach."
"To get away from me as far as you could?"
She repeated in a low voice: "To get away from you
as far as I could."
He laughed out again, this time in boyish satisfaction.
"Well, you see it's no use. I may as well tell you,"
he added, "that the business I came here for was just to
find you. But, look here, we must start or we shall miss
"Our boat?" She frowned perplexedly, and then
smiled. "Oh, but I must go back to the hotel first: I
must leave a note--"
"As many notes as you please. You can write here."
He drew out a note-case and one of the new stylographic
pens. "I've even got an envelope--you see how
everything's predestined! There--steady the thing on
your knee, and I'll get the pen going in a second. They
have to be humoured; wait--" He banged the hand
that held the pen against the back of the bench. "It's
like jerking down the mercury in a thermometer: just a
trick. Now try--"
She laughed, and bending over the sheet of paper
which he had laid on his note-case, began to write.
Archer walked away a few steps, staring with radiant
unseeing eyes at the passersby, who, in their turn,
paused to stare at the unwonted sight of a fashionably-
dressed lady writing a note on her knee on a bench in
Madame Olenska slipped the sheet into the envelope,
wrote a name on it, and put it into her pocket. Then
she too stood up.
They walked back toward Beacon Street, and near
the club Archer caught sight of the plush-lined "herdic"
which had carried his note to the Parker House,
and whose driver was reposing from this effort by
bathing his brow at the corner hydrant.
"I told you everything was predestined! Here's a cab
for us. You see!" They laughed, astonished at the miracle
of picking up a public conveyance at that hour, and
in that unlikely spot, in a city where cab-stands were
still a "foreign" novelty.
Archer, looking at his watch, saw that there was
time to drive to the Parker House before going to the
steamboat landing. They rattled through the hot streets
and drew up at the door of the hotel.
Archer held out his hand for the letter. "Shall I take
it in?" he asked; but Madame Olenska, shaking her
head, sprang out and disappeared through the glazed
doors. It was barely half-past ten; but what if the
emissary, impatient for her reply, and not knowing how
else to employ his time, were already seated among the
travellers with cooling drinks at their elbows of whom
Archer had caught a glimpse as she went in?
He waited, pacing up and down before the herdic. A
Sicilian youth with eyes like Nastasia's offered to shine
his boots, and an Irish matron to sell him peaches; and
every few moments the doors opened to let out hot
men with straw hats tilted far back, who glanced at
him as they went by. He marvelled that the door should
open so often, and that all the people it let out should
look so like each other, and so like all the other hot
men who, at that hour, through the length and breadth
of the land, were passing continuously in and out of
the swinging doors of hotels.
And then, suddenly, came a face that he could not
relate to the other faces. He caught but a flash of it, for
his pacings had carried him to the farthest point of his
beat, and it was in turning back to the hotel that he
saw, in a group of typical countenances--the lank and
weary, the round and surprised, the lantern-jawed and
mild--this other face that was so many more things at
once, and things so different. It was that of a young
man, pale too, and half-extinguished by the heat, or
worry, or both, but somehow, quicker, vivider, more
conscious; or perhaps seeming so because he was so
different. Archer hung a moment on a thin thread of
memory, but it snapped and floated off with the disappearing
face--apparently that of some foreign business
man, looking doubly foreign in such a setting. He
vanished in the stream of passersby, and Archer
resumed his patrol.
He did not care to be seen watch in hand within
view of the hotel, and his unaided reckoning of the
lapse of time led him to conclude that, if Madame
Olenska was so long in reappearing, it could only be
because she had met the emissary and been waylaid by
him. At the thought Archer's apprehension rose to
"If she doesn't come soon I'll go in and find her," he
The doors swung open again and she was at his side.
They got into the herdic, and as it drove off he took
out his watch and saw that she had been absent just
three minutes. In the clatter of loose windows that
made talk impossible they bumped over the disjointed
cobblestones to the wharf.
Seated side by side on a bench of the half-empty boat
they found that they had hardly anything to say to each
other, or rather that what they had to say communicated
itself best in the blessed silence of their release
and their isolation.
As the paddle-wheels began to turn, and wharves
and shipping to recede through the veil of heat, it
seemed to Archer that everything in the old familiar
world of habit was receding also. He longed to ask
Madame Olenska if she did not have the same feeling:
the feeling that they were starting on some long voyage
from which they might never return. But he was afraid
to say it, or anything else that might disturb the delicate
balance of her trust in him. In reality he had no
wish to betray that trust. There had been days and
nights when the memory of their kiss had burned and
burned on his lips; the day before even, on the drive to
Portsmouth, the thought of her had run through him
like fire; but now that she was beside him, and they
were drifting forth into this unknown world, they seemed
to have reached the kind of deeper nearness that a
touch may sunder.
As the boat left the harbour and turned seaward a
breeze stirred about them and the bay broke up into
long oily undulations, then into ripples tipped with
spray. The fog of sultriness still hung over the city, but
ahead lay a fresh world of ruffled waters, and distant
promontories with light-houses in the sun. Madame
Olenska, leaning back against the boat-rail, drank in
the coolness between parted lips. She had wound a
long veil about her hat, but it left her face uncovered,
and Archer was struck by the tranquil gaiety of her
expression. She seemed to take their adventure as a
matter of course, and to be neither in fear of unexpected
encounters, nor (what was worse) unduly elated
by their possibility.
In the bare dining-room of the inn, which he had
hoped they would have to themselves, they found a
strident party of innocent-looking young men and
women--school-teachers on a holiday, the landlord told
them--and Archer's heart sank at the idea of having to
talk through their noise.
"This is hopeless--I'll ask for a private room," he
said; and Madame Olenska, without offering any objection,
waited while he went in search of it. The room
opened on a long wooden verandah, with the sea coming
in at the windows. It was bare and cool, with a
table covered with a coarse checkered cloth and adorned
by a bottle of pickles and a blueberry pie under a cage.
No more guileless-looking cabinet particulier ever
offered its shelter to a clandestine couple: Archer fancied
he saw the sense of its reassurance in the faintly amused
smile with which Madame Olenska sat down opposite
to him. A woman who had run away from her husband--
and reputedly with another man--was likely to have
mastered the art of taking things for granted; but
something in the quality of her composure took the edge
from his irony. By being so quiet, so unsurprised and
so simple she had managed to brush away the conventions
and make him feel that to seek to be alone was
the natural thing for two old friends who had so much
to say to each other. . . .
They lunched slowly and meditatively, with mute
intervals between rushes of talk; for, the spell once
broken, they had much to say, and yet moments when
saying became the mere accompaniment to long duologues
of silence. Archer kept the talk from his own
affairs, not with conscious intention but because he did
not want to miss a word of her history; and leaning on
the table, her chin resting on her clasped hands, she
talked to him of the year and a half since they had met.
She had grown tired of what people called "society";
New York was kind, it was almost oppressively
hospitable; she should never forget the way in which it had
welcomed her back; but after the first flush of novelty
she had found herself, as she phrased it, too "different"
to care for the things it cared about--and so she had
decided to try Washington, where one was supposed to
meet more varieties of people and of opinion. And on
the whole she should probably settle down in Washington,
and make a home there for poor Medora, who
had worn out the patience of all her other relations just
at the time when she most needed looking after and
protecting from matrimonial perils.
"But Dr. Carver--aren't you afraid of Dr. Carver? I
hear he's been staying with you at the Blenkers'."
She smiled. "Oh, the Carver danger is over. Dr.
Carver is a very clever man. He wants a rich wife to
finance his plans, and Medora is simply a good
advertisement as a convert."
"A convert to what?"
"To all sorts of new and crazy social schemes. But,
do you know, they interest me more than the blind
conformity to tradition--somebody else's tradition--that
I see among our own friends. It seems stupid to have
discovered America only to make it into a copy of another
country." She smiled across the table. "Do you suppose
Christopher Columbus would have taken all that trouble
just to go to the Opera with the Selfridge Merrys?"
Archer changed colour. "And Beaufort--do you say
these things to Beaufort?" he asked abruptly.
"I haven't seen him for a long time. But I used to;
and he understands."
"Ah, it's what I've always told you; you don't like
us. And you like Beaufort because he's so unlike us."
He looked about the bare room and out at the bare
beach and the row of stark white village houses strung
along the shore. "We're damnably dull. We've no
character, no colour, no variety.--I wonder," he broke out,
"why you don't go back?"
Her eyes darkened, and he expected an indignant
rejoinder. But she sat silent, as if thinking over what he
had said, and he grew frightened lest she should answer
that she wondered too.
At length she said: "I believe it's because of you."
It was impossible to make the confession more
dispassionately, or in a tone less encouraging to the
vanity of the person addressed. Archer reddened to the
temples, but dared not move or speak: it was as if her
words had been some rare butterfly that the least motion
might drive off on startled wings, but that might
gather a flock about it if it were left undisturbed.
"At least," she continued, "it was you who made me
understand that under the dullness there are things so
fine and sensitive and delicate that even those I most
cared for in my other life look cheap in comparison. I
don't know how to explain myself"--she drew together
her troubled brows-- "but it seems as if I'd
never before understood with how much that is hard
and shabby and base the most exquisite pleasures may
"Exquisite pleasures--it's something to have had
them!" he felt like retorting; but the appeal in her eyes
kept him silent.
"I want," she went on, "to be perfectly honest with
you--and with myself. For a long time I've hoped this
chance would come: that I might tell you how you've
helped me, what you've made of me--"
Archer sat staring beneath frowning brows. He
interrupted her with a laugh. "And what do you make out
that you've made of me?"
She paled a little. "Of you?"
"Yes: for I'm of your making much more than you
ever were of mine. I'm the man who married one
woman because another one told him to."
Her paleness turned to a fugitive flush. "I thought--
you promised--you were not to say such things today."
"Ah--how like a woman! None of you will ever see
a bad business through!"
She lowered her voice. "IS it a bad business--for
He stood in the window, drumming against the raised
sash, and feeling in every fibre the wistful tenderness
with which she had spoken her cousin's name.
"For that's the thing we've always got to think of--
haven't we--by your own showing?" she insisted.
"My own showing?" he echoed, his blank eyes still
on the sea.
"Or if not," she continued, pursuing her own thought
with a painful application, "if it's not worth while to
have given up, to have missed things, so that others
may be saved from disillusionment and misery--then
everything I came home for, everything that made my
other life seem by contrast so bare and so poor because
no one there took account of them--all these things are
a sham or a dream--"
He turned around without moving from his place.
"And in that case there's no reason on earth why you
shouldn't go back?" he concluded for her.
Her eyes were clinging to him desperately. "Oh, IS
there no reason?"
"Not if you staked your all on the success of my
marriage. My marriage," he said savagely, "isn't going
to be a sight to keep you here." She made no answer,
and he went on: "What's the use? You gave me my
first glimpse of a real life, and at the same moment you
asked me to go on with a sham one. It's beyond human
"Oh, don't say that; when I'm enduring it!" she
burst out, her eyes filling.
Her arms had dropped along the table, and she sat
with her face abandoned to his gaze as if in the
recklessness of a desperate peril. The face exposed her as
much as if it had been her whole person, with the soul
behind it: Archer stood dumb, overwhelmed by what it
suddenly told him.
"You too--oh, all this time, you too?"
For answer, she let the tears on her lids overflow and
run slowly downward.
Half the width of the room was still between them,
and neither made any show of moving. Archer was
conscious of a curious indifference to her bodily presence:
he would hardly have been aware of it if one of
the hands she had flung out on the table had not drawn
his gaze as on the occasion when, in the little Twenty-
third Street house, he had kept his eye on it in order
not to look at her face. Now his imagination spun
about the hand as about the edge of a vortex; but still
he made no effort to draw nearer. He had known the
love that is fed on caresses and feeds them; but this
passion that was closer than his bones was not to be
superficially satisfied. His one terror was to do anything
which might efface the sound and impression of
her words; his one thought, that he should never again
feel quite alone.
But after a moment the sense of waste and ruin
overcame him. There they were, close together and safe
and shut in; yet so chained to their separate destinies
that they might as well have been half the world apart.
"What's the use--when you will go back?" he broke
out, a great hopeless HOW ON EARTH CAN I KEEP YOU?
crying out to her beneath his words.
She sat motionless, with lowered lids. "Oh--I shan't
"Not yet? Some time, then? Some time that you
At that she raised her clearest eyes. "I promise you:
not as long as you hold out. Not as long as we can
look straight at each other like this."
He dropped into his chair. What her answer really
said was: "If you lift a finger you'll drive me back:
back to all the abominations you know of, and all the
temptations you half guess." He understood it as clearly
as if she had uttered the words, and the thought kept
him anchored to his side of the table in a kind of
moved and sacred submission.
"What a life for you!--" he groaned.
"Oh--as long as it's a part of yours."
"And mine a part of yours?"
"And that's to be all--for either of us?"
"Well; it IS all, isn't it?"
At that he sprang up, forgetting everything but the
sweetness of her face. She rose too, not as if to meet
him or to flee from him, but quietly, as though the
worst of the task were done and she had only to wait;
so quietly that, as he came close, her outstretched hands
acted not as a check but as a guide to him. They fell
into his, while her arms, extended but not rigid, kept
him far enough off to let her surrendered face say the
They may have stood in that way for a long time, or
only for a few moments; but it was long enough for her
silence to communicate all she had to say, and for him
to feel that only one thing mattered. He must do nothing
to make this meeting their last; he must leave their
future in her care, asking only that she should keep fast
hold of it.
"Don't--don't be unhappy," she said, with a break
in her voice, as she drew her hands away; and he
answered: "You won't go back--you won't go back?"
as if it were the one possibility he could not bear.
"I won't go back," she said; and turning away she
opened the door and led the way into the public
The strident school-teachers were gathering up their
possessions preparatory to a straggling flight to the wharf;
across the beach lay the white steam-boat at the pier;
and over the sunlit waters Boston loomed in a line of haze.
Once more on the boat, and in the presence of others,
Archer felt a tranquillity of spirit that surprised as
much as it sustained him.
The day, according to any current valuation, had
been a rather ridiculous failure; he had not so much as
touched Madame Olenska's hand with his lips, or
extracted one word from her that gave promise of farther
opportunities. Nevertheless, for a man sick with
unsatisfied love, and parting for an indefinite period from
the object of his passion, he felt himself almost
humiliatingly calm and comforted. It was the perfect balance
she had held between their loyalty to others and their
honesty to themselves that had so stirred and yet
tranquillized him; a balance not artfully calculated, as her
tears and her falterings showed, but resulting naturally
from her unabashed sincerity. It filled him with a tender
awe, now the danger was over, and made him
thank the fates that no personal vanity, no sense of
playing a part before sophisticated witnesses, had
tempted him to tempt her. Even after they had clasped
hands for good-bye at the Fall River station, and he
had turned away alone, the conviction remained with
him of having saved out of their meeting much more
than he had sacrificed.
He wandered back to the club, and went and sat
alone in the deserted library, turning and turning over
in his thoughts every separate second of their hours
together. It was clear to him, and it grew more clear
under closer scrutiny, that if she should finally decide
on returning to Europe--returning to her husband--it
would not be because her old life tempted her, even on
the new terms offered. No: she would go only if she
felt herself becoming a temptation to Archer, a
temptation to fall away from the standard they had both set
up. Her choice would be to stay near him as long as he
did not ask her to come nearer; and it depended on
himself to keep her just there, safe but secluded.
In the train these thoughts were still with him. They
enclosed him in a kind of golden haze, through which
the faces about him looked remote and indistinct: he
had a feeling that if he spoke to his fellow-travellers
they would not understand what he was saying. In this
state of abstraction he found himself, the following
morning, waking to the reality of a stifling September
day in New York. The heat-withered faces in the long
train streamed past him, and he continued to stare at
them through the same golden blur; but suddenly, as
he left the station, one of the faces detached itself, came
closer and forced itself upon his consciousness. It was,
as he instantly recalled, the face of the young man he
had seen, the day before, passing out of the Parker
House, and had noted as not conforming to type, as
not having an American hotel face.
The same thing struck him now; and again he became
aware of a dim stir of former associations. The
young man stood looking about him with the dazed air
of the foreigner flung upon the harsh mercies of American
travel; then he advanced toward Archer, lifted his
hat, and said in English: "Surely, Monsieur, we met in
"Ah, to be sure: in London!" Archer grasped his
hand with curiosity and sympathy. "So you DID get
here, after all?" he exclaimed, casting a wondering eye
on the astute and haggard little countenance of young
Carfry's French tutor.
"Oh, I got here--yes," M. Riviere smiled with drawn
lips. "But not for long; I return the day after tomorrow."
He stood grasping his light valise in one neatly
gloved hand, and gazing anxiously, perplexedly, almost
appealingly, into Archer's face.
"I wonder, Monsieur, since I've had the good luck to
run across you, if I might--"
"I was just going to suggest it: come to luncheon,
won't you? Down town, I mean: if you'll look me up in
my office I'll take you to a very decent restaurant in
M. Riviere was visibly touched and surprised. "You're
too kind. But I was only going to ask if you would tell
me how to reach some sort of conveyance. There are
no porters, and no one here seems to listen--"
"I know: our American stations must surprise you.
When you ask for a porter they give you chewing-gum.
But if you'll come along I'll extricate you; and you
must really lunch with me, you know."
The young man, after a just perceptible hesitation,
replied, with profuse thanks, and in a tone that did not
carry complete conviction, that he was already engaged;
but when they had reached the comparative
reassurance of the street he asked if he might call that
Archer, at ease in the midsummer leisure of the
office, fixed an hour and scribbled his address, which the
Frenchman pocketed with reiterated thanks and a wide
flourish of his hat. A horse-car received him, and Archer
Punctually at the hour M. Riviere appeared, shaved,
smoothed-out, but still unmistakably drawn and serious.
Archer was alone in his office, and the young man,
before accepting the seat he proffered, began abruptly:
"I believe I saw you, sir, yesterday in Boston."
The statement was insignificant enough, and Archer
was about to frame an assent when his words were
checked by something mysterious yet illuminating in
his visitor's insistent gaze.
"It is extraordinary, very extraordinary," M. Riviere
continued, "that we should have met in the circumstances
in which I find myself."
"What circumstances?" Archer asked, wondering a
little crudely if he needed money.
M. Riviere continued to study him with tentative
eyes. "I have come, not to look for employment, as I
spoke of doing when we last met, but on a special
"Ah--!" Archer exclaimed. In a flash the two
meetings had connected themselves in his mind. He paused
to take in the situation thus suddenly lighted up for
him, and M. Riviere also remained silent, as if aware
that what he had said was enough.
"A special mission," Archer at length repeated.
The young Frenchman, opening his palms, raised
them slightly, and the two men continued to look at
each other across the office-desk till Archer roused
himself to say: "Do sit down"; whereupon M. Riviere
bowed, took a distant chair, and again waited.
"It was about this mission that you wanted to
consult me?" Archer finally asked.
M. Riviere bent his head. "Not in my own behalf:
on that score I--I have fully dealt with myself. I should
like--if I may--to speak to you about the Countess
Archer had known for the last few minutes that the
words were coming; but when they came they sent the
blood rushing to his temples as if he had been caught
by a bent-back branch in a thicket.
"And on whose behalf," he said, "do you wish to do
M. Riviere met the question sturdily. "Well--I might
say HERS, if it did not sound like a liberty. Shall I say
instead: on behalf of abstract justice?"
Archer considered him ironically. "In other words:
you are Count Olenski's messenger?"
He saw his blush more darkly reflected in M. Riviere's
sallow countenance. "Not to YOU, Monsieur. If I come
to you, it is on quite other grounds."
"What right have you, in the circumstances, to BE on
any other ground?" Archer retorted. "If you're an
emissary you're an emissary."
The young man considered. "My mission is over: as
far as the Countess Olenska goes, it has failed."
"I can't help that," Archer rejoined on the same note
"No: but you can help--" M. Riviere paused, turned
his hat about in his still carefully gloved hands, looked
into its lining and then back at Archer's face. "You can
help, Monsieur, I am convinced, to make it equally a
failure with her family."
Archer pushed back his chair and stood up. "Well--
and by God I will!" he exclaimed. He stood with his
hands in his pockets, staring down wrathfully at the
little Frenchman, whose face, though he too had risen,
was still an inch or two below the line of Archer's eyes.
M. Riviere paled to his normal hue: paler than that
his complexion could hardly turn.
"Why the devil," Archer explosively continued,
"should you have thought--since I suppose you're
appealing to me on the ground of my relationship to
Madame Olenska--that I should take a view contrary
to the rest of her family?"
The change of expression in M. Riviere's face was
for a time his only answer. His look passed from timidity
to absolute distress: for a young man of his usually
resourceful mien it would have been difficult to appear
more disarmed and defenceless. "Oh, Monsieur--"
"I can't imagine," Archer continued, "why you should
have come to me when there are others so much nearer
to the Countess; still less why you thought I should be
more accessible to the arguments I suppose you were
sent over with."
M. Riviere took this onslaught with a disconcerting
humility. "The arguments I want to present to you,
Monsieur, are my own and not those I was sent over
"Then I see still less reason for listening to them."
M. Riviere again looked into his hat, as if considering
whether these last words were not a sufficiently
broad hint to put it on and be gone. Then he spoke
with sudden decision. "Monsieur--will you tell me one
thing? Is it my right to be here that you question? Or
do you perhaps believe the whole matter to be already
His quiet insistence made Archer feel the clumsiness
of his own bluster. M. Riviere had succeeded in imposing
himself: Archer, reddening slightly, dropped into
his chair again, and signed to the young man to be
"I beg your pardon: but why isn't the matter closed?"
M. Riviere gazed back at him with anguish. "You
do, then, agree with the rest of the family that, in face
of the new proposals I have brought, it is hardly possible
for Madame Olenska not to return to her husband?"
"Good God!" Archer exclaimed; and his visitor gave
out a low murmur of confirmation.
"Before seeing her, I saw--at Count Olenski's
request--Mr. Lovell Mingott, with whom I had several
talks before going to Boston. I understand that he
represents his mother's view; and that Mrs. Manson
Mingott's influence is great throughout her family."
Archer sat silent, with the sense of clinging to the
edge of a sliding precipice. The discovery that he had
been excluded from a share in these negotiations, and
even from the knowledge that they were on foot, caused
him a surprise hardly dulled by the acuter wonder of
what he was learning. He saw in a flash that if the
family had ceased to consult him it was because some
deep tribal instinct warned them that he was no longer
on their side; and he recalled, with a start of comprehension,
a remark of May's during their drive home
from Mrs. Manson Mingott's on the day of the Archery
Meeting: "Perhaps, after all, Ellen would be happier
with her husband."
Even in the tumult of new discoveries Archer remembered
his indignant exclamation, and the fact that since
then his wife had never named Madame Olenska to
him. Her careless allusion had no doubt been the straw
held up to see which way the wind blew; the result had
been reported to the family, and thereafter Archer had
been tacitly omitted from their counsels. He admired
the tribal discipline which made May bow to this decision.
She would not have done so, he knew, had her
conscience protested; but she probably shared the family
view that Madame Olenska would be better off as
an unhappy wife than as a separated one, and that
there was no use in discussing the case with Newland,
who had an awkward way of suddenly not seeming to
take the most fundamental things for granted.
Archer looked up and met his visitor's anxious gaze.
"Don't you know, Monsieur--is it possible you don't
know--that the family begin to doubt if they have the
right to advise the Countess to refuse her husband's
"The proposals you brought?"
"The proposals I brought."
It was on Archer's lips to exclaim that whatever he
knew or did not know was no concern of M. Riviere's;
but something in the humble and yet courageous tenacity
of M. Riviere's gaze made him reject this conclusion,
and he met the young man's question with another.
"What is your object in speaking to me of this?"
He had not to wait a moment for the answer. "To
beg you, Monsieur--to beg you with all the force I'm
capable of--not to let her go back.--Oh, don't let
her!" M. Riviere exclaimed.
Archer looked at him with increasing astonishment.
There was no mistaking the sincerity of his distress or
the strength of his determination: he had evidently
resolved to let everything go by the board but the
supreme need of thus putting himself on record. Archer
"May I ask," he said at length, "if this is the line you
took with the Countess Olenska?"
M. Riviere reddened, but his eyes did not falter.
"No, Monsieur: I accepted my mission in good faith. I
really believed--for reasons I need not trouble you
with--that it would be better for Madame Olenska to
recover her situation, her fortune, the social consideration
that her husband's standing gives her."
"So I supposed: you could hardly have accepted such
a mission otherwise."
"I should not have accepted it."
"Well, then--?" Archer paused again, and their eyes
met in another protracted scrutiny.
"Ah, Monsieur, after I had seen her, after I had
listened to her, I knew she was better off here."
"Monsieur, I discharged my mission faithfully: I put
the Count's arguments, I stated his offers, without adding
any comment of my own. The Countess was good
enough to listen patiently; she carried her goodness so
far as to see me twice; she considered impartially all I
had come to say. And it was in the course of these two
talks that I changed my mind, that I came to see things
"May I ask what led to this change?"
"Simply seeing the change in HER," M. Riviere replied.
"The change in her? Then you knew her before?"
The young man's colour again rose. "I used to see
her in her husband's house. I have known Count Olenski
for many years. You can imagine that he would not
have sent a stranger on such a mission."
Archer's gaze, wandering away to the blank walls of
the office, rested on a hanging calendar surmounted by
the rugged features of the President of the United States.
That such a conversation should be going on anywhere
within the millions of square miles subject to his rule
seemed as strange as anything that the imagination
"The change--what sort of a change?"
"Ah, Monsieur, if I could tell you!" M. Riviere paused.
"Tenez--the discovery, I suppose, of what I'd never
thought of before: that she's an American. And that if
you're an American of HER kind--of your kind--things
that are accepted in certain other societies, or at least
put up with as part of a general convenient give-and-
take--become unthinkable, simply unthinkable. If
Madame Olenska's relations understood what these things
were, their opposition to her returning would no doubt
be as unconditional as her own; but they seem to
regard her husband's wish to have her back as proof of
an irresistible longing for domestic life." M. Riviere
paused, and then added: "Whereas it's far from being
as simple as that."
Archer looked back to the President of the United
States, and then down at his desk and at the papers
scattered on it. For a second or two he could not trust
himself to speak. During this interval he heard M.
Riviere's chair pushed back, and was aware that the
young man had risen. When he glanced up again he
saw that his visitor was as moved as himself.
"Thank you," Archer said simply.
"There's nothing to thank me for, Monsieur: it is I,
rather--" M. Riviere broke off, as if speech for him
too were difficult. "I should like, though," he continued
in a firmer voice, "to add one thing. You asked me
if I was in Count Olenski's employ. I am at this moment:
I returned to him, a few months ago, for reasons
of private necessity such as may happen to any one
who has persons, ill and older persons, dependent on
him. But from the moment that I have taken the step of
coming here to say these things to you I consider myself
discharged, and I shall tell him so on my return,
and give him the reasons. That's all, Monsieur."
M. Riviere bowed and drew back a step.
"Thank you," Archer said again, as their hands met.
Every year on the fifteenth of October Fifth Avenue
opened its shutters, unrolled its carpets and hung
up its triple layer of window-curtains.
By the first of November this household ritual was
over, and society had begun to look about and take
stock of itself. By the fifteenth the season was in full
blast, Opera and theatres were putting forth their new
attractions, dinner-engagements were accumulating, and
dates for dances being fixed. And punctually at about
this time Mrs. Archer always said that New York was
very much changed.
Observing it from the lofty stand-point of a non-
participant, she was able, with the help of Mr. Sillerton
Jackson and Miss Sophy, to trace each new crack in its
surface, and all the strange weeds pushing up between
the ordered rows of social vegetables. It had been one
of the amusements of Archer's youth to wait for this
annual pronouncement of his mother's, and to hear her
enumerate the minute signs of disintegration that his
careless gaze had overlooked. For New York, to Mrs.
Archer's mind, never changed without changing for the
worse; and in this view Miss Sophy Jackson heartily
Mr. Sillerton Jackson, as became a man of the world,
suspended his judgment and listened with an amused
impartiality to the lamentations of the ladies. But even
he never denied that New York had changed; and
Newland Archer, in the winter of the second year of his
marriage, was himself obliged to admit that if it had
not actually changed it was certainly changing.
These points had been raised, as usual, at Mrs.
Archer's Thanksgiving dinner. At the date when she was
officially enjoined to give thanks for the blessings of
the year it was her habit to take a mournful though not
embittered stock of her world, and wonder what there
was to be thankful for. At any rate, not the state of
society; society, if it could be said to exist, was rather a
spectacle on which to call down Biblical imprecations--
and in fact, every one knew what the Reverend Dr.
Ashmore meant when he chose a text from Jeremiah
(chap. ii., verse 25) for his Thanksgiving sermon.
Dr. Ashmore, the new Rector of St. Matthew's, had
been chosen because he was very "advanced": his
sermons were considered bold in thought and novel in
language. When he fulminated against fashionable society
he always spoke of its "trend"; and to Mrs. Archer
it was terrifying and yet fascinating to feel herself part
of a community that was trending.
"There's no doubt that Dr. Ashmore is right: there IS
a marked trend," she said, as if it were something
visible and measurable, like a crack in a house.
"It was odd, though, to preach about it on Thanksgiving,"
Miss Jackson opined; and her hostess drily
rejoined: "Oh, he means us to give thanks for what's
Archer had been wont to smile at these annual
vaticinations of his mother's; but this year even he was
obliged to acknowledge, as he listened to an enumeration
of the changes, that the "trend" was visible.
"The extravagance in dress--" Miss Jackson began.
"Sillerton took me to the first night of the Opera, and I
can only tell you that Jane Merry's dress was the only
one I recognised from last year; and even that had had
the front panel changed. Yet I know she got it out from
Worth only two years ago, because my seamstress always
goes in to make over her Paris dresses before she
"Ah, Jane Merry is one of US," said Mrs. Archer
sighing, as if it were not such an enviable thing to be in
an age when ladies were beginning to flaunt abroad
their Paris dresses as soon as they were out of the
Custom House, instead of letting them mellow under
lock and key, in the manner of Mrs. Archer's contemporaries.
"Yes; she's one of the few. In my youth," Miss
Jackson rejoined, "it was considered vulgar to dress in
the newest fashions; and Amy Sillerton has always told
me that in Boston the rule was to put away one's Paris
dresses for two years. Old Mrs. Baxter Pennilow, who
did everything handsomely, used to import twelve a
year, two velvet, two satin, two silk, and the other six
of poplin and the finest cashmere. It was a standing
order, and as she was ill for two years before she died
they found forty-eight Worth dresses that had never
been taken out of tissue paper; and when the girls left
off their mourning they were able to wear the first lot
at the Symphony concerts without looking in advance
of the fashion."
"Ah, well, Boston is more conservative than New
York; but I always think it's a safe rule for a lady to
lay aside her French dresses for one season," Mrs.
"It was Beaufort who started the new fashion by
making his wife clap her new clothes on her back as
soon as they arrived: I must say at times it takes all
Regina's distinction not to look like . . . like . . ." Miss
Jackson glanced around the table, caught Janey's bulging
gaze, and took refuge in an unintelligible murmur.
"Like her rivals," said Mr. Sillerton Jackson, with
the air of producing an epigram.
"Oh,--" the ladies murmured; and Mrs. Archer added,
partly to distract her daughter's attention from forbidden
topics: "Poor Regina! Her Thanksgiving hasn't
been a very cheerful one, I'm afraid. Have you heard
the rumours about Beaufort's speculations, Sillerton?"
Mr. Jackson nodded carelessly. Every one had heard
the rumours in question, and he scorned to confirm a
tale that was already common property.
A gloomy silence fell upon the party. No one really
liked Beaufort, and it was not wholly unpleasant to
think the worst of his private life; but the idea of his
having brought financial dishonour on his wife's family
was too shocking to be enjoyed even by his enemies.
Archer's New York tolerated hypocrisy in private relations;
but in business matters it exacted a limpid and
impeccable honesty. It was a long time since any well-
known banker had failed discreditably; but every one
remembered the social extinction visited on the heads
of the firm when the last event of the kind had
happened. It would be the same with the Beauforts, in spite
of his power and her popularity; not all the leagued
strength of the Dallas connection would save poor
Regina if there were any truth in the reports of her
husband's unlawful speculations.
The talk took refuge in less ominous topics; but
everything they touched on seemed to confirm Mrs.
Archer's sense of an accelerated trend.
"Of course, Newland, I know you let dear May go
to Mrs. Struthers's Sunday evenings--" she began; and
May interposed gaily: "Oh, you know, everybody goes
to Mrs. Struthers's now; and she was invited to Granny's
It was thus, Archer reflected, that New York
managed its transitions: conspiring to ignore them till they
were well over, and then, in all good faith, imagining
that they had taken place in a preceding age. There was
always a traitor in the citadel; and after he (or generally
she) had surrendered the keys, what was the use of
pretending that it was impregnable? Once people had
tasted of Mrs. Struthers's easy Sunday hospitality they
were not likely to sit at home remembering that her
champagne was transmuted Shoe-Polish.
"I know, dear, I know," Mrs. Archer sighed. "Such
things have to be, I suppose, as long as AMUSEMENT is
what people go out for; but I've never quite forgiven
your cousin Madame Olenska for being the first person
to countenance Mrs. Struthers."
A sudden blush rose to young Mrs. Archer's face; it
surprised her husband as much as the other guests
about the table. "Oh, ELLEN--" she murmured, much in
the same accusing and yet deprecating tone in which
her parents might have said: "Oh, THE BLENKERS--."
It was the note which the family had taken to sounding
on the mention of the Countess Olenska's name,
since she had surprised and inconvenienced them by
remaining obdurate to her husband's advances; but on
May's lips it gave food for thought, and Archer looked
at her with the sense of strangeness that sometimes
came over him when she was most in the tone of her
His mother, with less than her usual sensitiveness to
atmosphere, still insisted: "I've always thought that
people like the Countess Olenska, who have lived in
aristocratic societies, ought to help us to keep up our
social distinctions, instead of ignoring them."
May's blush remained permanently vivid: it seemed
to have a significance beyond that implied by the
recognition of Madame Olenska's social bad faith.
"I've no doubt we all seem alike to foreigners," said
Miss Jackson tartly.
"I don't think Ellen cares for society; but nobody
knows exactly what she does care for," May continued,
as if she had been groping for something noncommittal.
"Ah, well--" Mrs. Archer sighed again.
Everybody knew that the Countess Olenska was no
longer in the good graces of her family. Even her
devoted champion, old Mrs. Manson Mingott, had been
unable to defend her refusal to return to her husband.
The Mingotts had not proclaimed their disapproval
aloud: their sense of solidarity was too strong. They
had simply, as Mrs. Welland said, "let poor Ellen find
her own level"--and that, mortifyingly and
incomprehensibly, was in the dim depths where the Blenkers
prevailed, and "people who wrote" celebrated their
untidy rites. It was incredible, but it was a fact, that
Ellen, in spite of all her opportunities and her privileges,
had become simply "Bohemian." The fact enforced
the contention that she had made a fatal mistake
in not returning to Count Olenski. After all, a young
woman's place was under her husband's roof, especially
when she had left it in circumstances that . . .
well . . . if one had cared to look into them . . .
"Madame Olenska is a great favourite with the
gentlemen," said Miss Sophy, with her air of wishing to
put forth something conciliatory when she knew that
she was planting a dart.
"Ah, that's the danger that a young woman like
Madame Olenska is always exposed to," Mrs. Archer
mournfully agreed; and the ladies, on this conclusion,
gathered up their trains to seek the carcel globes of the
drawing-room, while Archer and Mr. Sillerton Jackson
withdrew to the Gothic library.
Once established before the grate, and consoling